Back when he was a high school student at St. Mary’s Springs Academy in Fond du Lac, Kollin Petrie sat down and made a list of goals for himself.

The young football player thought he was making plans for the kind of athlete and student he wanted to be. After all, SMSA’s stellar football program was one of the main reasons he had selected the school when his parents gave him a choice between public and Catholic secondary education.

“I wanted to be a part of the tradition of excellence, both on the field and in the classroom. I wanted to learn from the best coaches and teachers, and follow in the footsteps of those before me who had helped fill the trophy cases,” said Petrie.

What Petrie didn’t realize was that the goals he aspired to academically and athletically — and the discipline and dedication he would need to employ to achieve them — would actually set the stage for his life as a follower of Christ.

“I think the Lord used sports to draw me deeper into the Church. He led me from striving for a state championship to desiring the ‘imperishable crown’ of heaven,” said Petrie, paraphrasing St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. “There are so many parallels between sports and faith: Christians are called to pray, fast, and perform acts of charity, just like athletes who practice long hours, follow strict diets, and exercise intensely. Following Jesus requires sacrifice and self-denial. Being a disciple demands discipline. Thankfully, the Saints are great coaches and teammates, and their example gives us courage.”

Like Petrie, a lot of students are drawn to Catholic education because of extracurricular experiences — from organized activities like sports and performing arts to clubs and even down to the most mundane, everyday aspects of high school like relationships with other students and the mentorship of faculty. A recent research study conducted on behalf of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee shows that Catholic high school graduates believe their time in Catholic education taught them enduring life values that have benefitted them long after graduation day passed.

Kollin Petrie’s Story

Growing up on the family farm east of Fond du Lac, Petrie’s parents took him and his two siblings to Mass every weekend. Living in the “Holyland” just down the road from the Capuchin Franciscans in Mt. Calvary, and with two great-uncles who were Capuchin missionaries, faith was part of the fabric of life. He began playing guitar for Mass during grade school and took his affinity for liturgical music into high school at SMSA, where he participated in the school’s Music Liturgy club.

Following his graduation from SMSA in 2007, Petrie went on to college at Marquette University, where his passion for liturgical music led to a deepening of his faith. He began singing in the liturgical choir and leading music for weekend and daily Masses on campus. After graduating from Marquette in 2011 with a degree in theology, he remained in Milwaukee, working first at Catholic Charities and then teaching at Messmer High School while doing occasional music ministry at St. Francis of Assisi. He moved into a youth ministry position at St. Frances Cabrini Parish in West Bend in 2014.

It was there, under the mentorship of his boss, Fr. Nathan Reesman — who Petrie likened to “a good coach” — that he really began to recognize how the Lord had been calling him from the realm of high school athletics into the spiritual arena of the Christian life.

“He helped me understand the beauty and goodness of the Church’s timeless wisdom and showed me that the spiritual exercises and ancient Catholic customs are still effective at helping us love God and our neighbor in the modern world,” said Petrie.

Returning to SMSA in 2018 as the director of campus ministry was a meaningful homecoming for him.

“I love this school and the traditions here. Our team won the state championship in football again this year; going and watching as a fan was so neat because I got to play there as a student, and when I see young men out on the field, it’s like these are my younger brothers in a sense — I’m still part of that family,” he said. “I want to help my students understand that they are part of a bigger story, a bigger tradition, and that they can find an even deeper sense of camaraderie in the family of the Catholic Church.”

Now that he’s come back to be a steward of the tradition at St. Mary’s Springs, his primary goal is to offer his students a witness of someone who is seeking God’s grace. Just as he benefited greatly from the quietly faithful influence of his own parents, he wants to work with the parents of the school community to take a note from Fr. Reesman’s playbook and “build a Catholic culture rooted in the ingrained habits of the faith of our predecessors.”

“I have seen God in the mysterious and beautiful practices of our Catholic Faith: they are essential sources of grace,” said Petrie. “Every winning team excels at the fundamentals. If we embrace and inculcate the fundamental and timeless customs of our Tradition, we will grow in holiness as a Church and draw closer to sharing in the glory of heaven with Christ all His Saints.”